The Lightning will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the NHL playoffs which will begin later today.
This will be the second meeting in the playoffs between these two teams, and a chance for the Lightning to even the score from last year’s beat down.
Last year was one of the most embarrassing defeats in NHL history as the Lightning secured home-ice advantage with the best record in the NHL. Only to be embarrassed in the first round getting swept by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0.
There has been no talk of last year inside the Lightning locker room. No talk of revenge. No talk of settling the score.
It has been a business-like approach to the series which begins at 3 PM Tuesday.
This is not the same Lightning team that was outplayed in every facet of the game in the series last season with the Blue Jackets.
This Lightning team is more physical. That was on display in the three round-robin games against Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia.
The Lightning added Zach Bogosian on the blue line. They also added some grit to the forward line in acquiring Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to bring some toughness to the third and fourth lines.
The Lightning could be without two of their best players in Steven Stamkos and defensemen Victor Hedman.
Stamkos suffered a lower-body injury as phase two of the return to play ramped up and has not played in a game or participated in a full practice since suffering the injury.
Hedman suffered a leg injury in a non-contact play in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Flyers.
Jon Cooper said that he would provide an update on the status of Hedman today.
Stamkos is not expected to play. It is not certain when Hedman will be ready to play.
With Stamkos out, Mitchell Stephens will take Stamkos spot in the lineup. Stephens played well in the round-robin games and won a couple of faceoffs while scoring a goal.
Defensemen Jan Rutta was also scratched against Philadelphia. He was classified as not ready to play His status is not expected to change for game one of this series.
Other than that, everyone is healthy and ready to go against Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are a team that has that never give up mentality. They keep grinding and playing hard until something good happens.
The Blue Jackets beat the Toronto Maple Leafs three games to two to advance to play the Lightning in the first round.
This was a series of momentum swings as Columbus won the first game 2-0 before losing to the leafs 3-0 in game two. The Jackets won game three in overtime 4-3 before letting a three-goal lead disappear in a 4-3 overtime loss in game four.
That set up a winner takes all matchup in game five which the Blue Jackets won 3-0.
Columbus forward Josh Anderson will be out for the first game of the series although he is skating with the team
One of the biggest matchups of the series will be the line of Point, Palat, and Kucherov against the number one Jackets defensive duo of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
This Columbus duo is an underrated defensive pairing and one of the best in the NHL.
The Point line had their best game against Washington in the round-robin games with a total of 10 points.
This top-line needs to play better against Columbus than they did against Boston and Philadelphia.
With Hedman and Rutta likely out for game one, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and Eric Cernak will take a lot of the minutes for the Lightning defensemen.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was solid in the three games last week and made some great saves against the Flyers to keep the Lightning in the game.
Vasilevskiy has a 2.29 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in the three round-robin games.
The Blue Jackets have gone with the hot hand in goal and both goalies have come up big when they have needed to.
Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins split the workload for Columbus during the regular season. Korpisalo started 35 games, with Merzlikins starting 31 games.
Pierre Luc Dubois led the Jackets in scoring with 49 points during the regular season. Oliver Bjorkstrand led the Jackets with 21 goals.
Four storylines to watch during the series.
-Great play from Andrei Vasilevskiy. With Hedman and Stamkos out, the play of Vasilevskiy becomes much more important.
-Everyone on the blue line has to step up and be ready to contribute. The Lightning is down to seven defensemen and everyone is going to have to contribute if this team is going to advance.
-The line of Point, Palat, and Kucherov must get going early. This has been the best line in Toronto, and they will need to continue to play at a high level.
-The Lightning will have to be the more physical team. Last year the Jackets won almost every physical battle against the Lightning.
In the round-robin games, the Lightning matched the physicality of every team that they played and were the more physical team at times.
The Lightning will have to set the tone early in the series that this is not the same old Lightning team. They are not going to be pushed around.
Cooper was outcoached by Tortorella in the series last spring. What has Jon Cooper learned?
These next seven games will tell the story.
The Lightning is the more talented team and I expect a tough hard-fought series with the Lightning winning in seven games.